Boss Man: Jonathan Groff


By Max Berlinger

On painting the town red, using sex as power, and overcoming the urge to Google himself.

Photography by Tim Klein

About a year ago, Jonathan Groff made a promise to himself. Well, two, actually.

“The first was to stop drinking Diet Coke because, I kid you not, I used to drink five or six a day. I was addicted,” he admits. “And I decided to stop looking at myself on the Internet.”

The actor first caught the public’s eye for his Tony Award–nominated performance in the 2006 Broadway musical Spring Awakening, then quickly became one of TV’s dreamiest tenors when he snagged the role of Jesse St. James on Fox’s smash hit Glee. Still, trolling the web for news about himself wasn’t doing much for his confidence. “Your ego wants to see, of course, but I was looking at myself online -- with a Diet Coke in hand, I’m sure -- and thought, You know what? This is doing me no good.” He quit both immediately.

It’s safe to assume that Groff has little time for cyber-narcissism these days. He spent this past summer juggling two back-to-back projects, wrapping his role opposite Kelsey Grammer in the sophomore season of the STARZ series Boss in Chicago before jetting to L.A. for a limited engagement in the play Red. In fact, the only free moment he had to chat was while weaving through traffic, en route to rehearsal for the production.


Groff is the newbie on a team that has worked on two previous runs of the acclaimed drama; first on London’s West End in 2009 and then on Broadway in 2010, in a version that starred Eddie Redmayne. “You have reverence and respect for the history that’s there, but also feel free to bring your own thing to it,” he says. The two-person show, which centers on the fictional relationship between artist Mark Rothko and his assistant, has Groff going tête-à-tête with cinema vet Alfred Molina for 90 minutes.

Though he admits the project is exhausting, he’s glad to have returned to his theatrical roots. “It’s incredibly complex and intense,” he says. “We’re painting a huge canvas onstage. But it’s a dream job.”

He’ll have a similar face-off in Boss as Ian Todd, adviser to Grammer’s Chicago mayor, Tom Kane. “He’s this young, super-ambitious, smart guy, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead,” Groff says of his character, before adding that he’s harboring “a gigantic secret.” He likens Ian to Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, a confidant whose intentions are far from pure, or even clear. Groff won’t divulge any spoilers but admits that Todd would “sleep with anyone -- men or women -- to advance in the political world. His sexuality comes from a place of power.”